James Hill - painting

Turning point

James Hill shares his story in the hopes that others won’t needlessly suffer in silence like he did for so long.


Sarah O’Donovan

James Hill’s story is not unlike that of many tradies. He started an apprenticeship at the age of 15 and never looked back. He worked his way up to a supervisor role, trained at the gym nearly every day and spent his spare time on the beach or with his loved ones.

‘Everything was good,’ he says, ‘everything was picture perfect.’

But almost out of nowhere, his health began to deteriorate.

‘It didn’t happen overnight,’ he says. ‘I think I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself.’

James first noticed he was becoming increasingly fatigued when he began injuring himself at the gym. Soon, he was needing to sleep two or three times a day, even having to pull over for rest when driving.

Despite having no energy throughout the day, James was too restless to sleep at night. He says he spent most nights awake and worrying.

James had a number of blood tests and physical assessments, but says whenever the doctor asked about his mental health he would brush it off.

‘I was brought up old school, believing that you don’t talk about emotions, that it’s not a manly thing to do,’ James laughs, ‘it sounds so stupid now, saying it out loud, but that was my attitude!’

Then the negative self-talk began. ‘I’d think I wasn’t good enough of a leader for the job I was doing, I wasn’t training as hard as I could – really beating myself up internally – and then, I started drinking because that was a way of forgetting things.’

‘I just woke up one day when I was off work and had the urge to draw a picture’

‘Subconsciously, I knew I was going through some sort of breakdown, but on the surface my understanding was that only people who had lost a job or were going through divorce suffered from depression.’

With an all too common misunderstanding of mental illness, it took some time before James sought help.

‘It was when I was in a really deep hole that I came across beyondblue,’ he says of finding an online test. He promised himself ‘I’ll answer every question honestly, but just to get the idea out of my head and shut myself up – not because that’s what’s wrong with me.

‘The result came back: I needed to seek professional help straight away.

‘That was really hard for me to absorb, I sat with it for a few days because I didn’t really want to go to the doctor and I didn’t think I needed to,’ James says.

But, despite nearly leaving the waiting room a number of times because he felt out of place among others who were visibly and physically unwell, he did eventually pluck up the courage to seek medical advice.

He couldn’t have predicted what a turn his life was going to take from there,

‘The doctor was very reassuring, he told me I wasn’t the first person to come through the door with mental health concerns, and then went through all of the treatment options. He was so supportive and that really started my journey to recovery.’

In addition to taking time off work to recover, James had to shift his ordinary routine to prevent the situation repeating.

‘Seeing a psychologist regularly was something that I built into my life. That was also hard because there’s a lot of stigma about talking to a psychologist and my understanding was very limited.’
James Hill - painting
James uses art regularly just to stay well
James Hill - painting
Art is a big part of James’ recovery

Perhaps one of the best outcomes from his experience was James finding a new hobby: ‘it was so bizarre, I just woke up one day when I was off work and had the urge to draw a picture. When I did I found my mind was that focused on that, all of the negative self-talk and low feelings disappeared – I was absorbed in art.

‘It was a way of releasing my emotions and getting that out of my head. I found that very therapeutic and still to this day I use art regularly just to stay well. Finding art was a big part of my recovery.’

James implemented a daily routine that he still uses, made up of four habits that he says ensure he stays well.

‘I take time out to do meditation or mindfulness, again, that took me a while to get my head around as a bloke but it’s very worthwhile; I maintain a good diet; I exercise every day; and get enough sleep, and if I get the first three throughout the day, I’ll sleep really well at night.’

As for those who might be unsure if what they’re struggling with is related to mental health or not?

‘Talk to somebody. That’s as simple as it is. There’s no shame so don’t suffer in silence,’ James says.

‘Generally people know themselves well enough to know that when they’re not right they can tell they’re not right,’ he says. ‘Early intervention is the key to a better and quicker outcome.’

The beyondblue resources, tools and services are easily accessible through HIA.

James Hill

Fight the stigma

Today, James volunteers as a speaker for beyondblue to raise awareness and encourage others to seek help.

He says that sadly, he felt more comfortable making up a physical illness when it came to taking time off work. ‘There’s still a lot of work to do – there seems to be more acceptance of physical illness over mental illness – hence the role I’m in now.’

‘If you’ve got a sore back, you recognise it and go tell a doctor,’ he says. ‘With a mental illness, you know the symptoms are there but you try to ignore them.’ But that stigma is what makes his work as a mental health advocate so important to him.

HIA and the HIA Charitable Foundation have partnered with beyondblue to provide relevant information regarding mental health in the residential construction industry – available on HIA’s website.

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